An unexpected role

Author Keith Jennings
August 01, 2016 - 12:30pm

This summer has been hectic, both professionally and personally. 

The business side has been a roller coaster, requiring intense management. Personally, I had the pleasure of seeing my third of four kids graduate from high school and begin developing an interest in our family business. 

His lightbulb came on much earlier than mine, realizing the value of an opportunity in the manufacturing industry. So much so that he motivated three of his friends to seek the same opportunities by recruiting them to join our company. We needed some entry-level labor, and this was an opportunity for them to determine if a shop career was of real interest or not.

My son’s friends largely spent their teenage years around my house and our family, focusing on the usual teenage priorities and being generally clueless about our shop. As they neared graduation and were forced to consider life after adolescence, the challenges of adulthood came into focus. 

Unbeknownst to me, my role began to shift from goofy Dad to mentor and “man of wisdom.” Suddenly, my advice and guidance about life mattered more, and my son and his three friends began to notice business conversations at our home. No longer did their conversations revolve around sports, teachers, cool cars and video games. Instead, they were sitting with my wife and me, asking us about career opportunities, the value of college and work training classes. They listened and took our ideas to heart.

As this evolution was occurring, my wife and I had another realization. They weren’t seeking our advice and guidance because it’s necessarily better than anyone else’s, but because we were simply willing to listen and provide thoughtful insight when applicable, and, when it wasn’t, refer them to their parents or other friends with more knowledge. We could sense their yearning for guidance that they weren’t getting. 

Having these conversations has also taught me some valuable lessons. First, while I don’t consider myself a man of great wisdom, I think teenagers need to hear something positive, yet realistic. I believe many future shop candidates are largely being overlooked because so few adults and business owners are willing to talk to them or share information. Many of these hiring prospects aren’t offered much hope without a college degree. They’re rarely told the virtues of starting at the bottom and why there’s value in that type of work. Unfortunately, many parents don’t provide that input either and then wonder why their children are living wayward lives.

Concerned parents, however, should tell their kids how to make lemonade out of lemons, and, if the kids are working in a job shop, explain how seemingly unimportant tasks, like cleaning machines or counting parts accurately and stacking them correctly, are critical to the shop’s success. To me, it’s common sense; to them, it’s hope and opportunity, and I’m happy to offer it. 

I’m not sure if my son’s and his friends’ interest in a shop career will last. If it doesn’t, that’s OK. They’ll still learn valuable lessons working under the supervision of a good shop manager. Many kids are very smart but can’t or won’t go to college. Perhaps one day they will, but in the meantime, as shop owners and managers, we must cultivate our future together—and these kids are examples of that possibility.    


Manager's Desk Columnist

Keith Jennings is president of Crow Corp., Tomball, Texas, a family-owned company focusing on machining, metal fabrication and metal stamping.